_ Ali Pekşen

American Michael Heizer, goes on the work ''land art'', he initiated in 1971on the desert Nevada, still today. The name of his work, which is regarded as one of the biggest modern statues, is: Complex City . This city is composed of triangular and rectangular surfaced huge stone blocks with 20 meters height each having weight exceeding a 100 tons. Though they are named as sclupture, Heizer opposes this concept and names his work as ''unsclupture'' .

Those gigantic buildings, Heizer goes on building at a place 40 miles away from the closest residing area, are composed of complexes. The artist has already finished 3 of them up to now; but still going on building 4 of them. And he says that the task will be finished when the 5th one will be finished. It should be stated that, the concept ''complex'' is used by archeologists to refer to the buildings in ancient cities, and in accordance with this issue it should also be stated that one of the aims of Heizer is to associate American art with the splendor of Mayas, Inkas and the Aztecs. At an interview with Kimmelman in New York Times Heizer says: '' I'm just doing the thing which has been done for centuries but which is not being done today'' (Kimmelman,1999).

In order to comprehend Heizer's Complex City , we should not only take a look at his life but also discuss about him in the borders of the concept: ''land art''.


He was born in 1944, in California. His family has been living in Nevada since 1880s. One of his grandfathers is a mining engineer and the other is the chief geologist of California. And his father was also an archeologist and an expert on the big basins in California and Yucatan. He also worked in Egypt, Bolivia, and Peru. The intersting thing at this point is that; he was writing a book about antique transportation and big stones when he died. Heizer's past shaped his works directly. His working on huge stones in the desert Nevada was neither a coincidence nor an innovation. We cannot understand Michael Heizer without recalling the things his father and his grandfather did. In relation to that we can say that there is archeology, geology and antropology at the root of his art.

Another source is the book his father wrote. La Venta is told in the book. La Venta is an Olmec ceremony. Besides this, there are stone drawings resembling Heizer's city statues, extracted in excavations. Heizer says that he didn't take the pattern directly from a book, but they were already inherent in his mind in their abstract forms in general. He also states that those statues imply about the American-Indian antagonism and the tombs. The Complex City also attributes to the American-Indian tumuleses and ''the mastabaya'' which was on the grave of Zozer in the city Saggara in Egypt where he went with his father.

Heizer started to do big-scaled land art works in Nevada, in 1967. His first demonstration took place in Munich,in 1969. He carried a 1000 ton of soil from one place to another for his conic shaped Munich Depression project. An another project called Double Negative in the desert Nevada followed this. He changed the place of approximately over 244.000 tons of soil with the help of bulldozers in order to form a big cut facing one another. According to Michael Govan, Heizer's those statues contain a challenge to the history of statues (Govan,1995). And Heizer's own estimation is also interesting: ''In order to form this statue no material was collected or brought together; conversely they were removed. There is nothing in here but still this is a statue.'' (Kastner,1998:54)

A statue is not made up of concrete materials; conversely it's made up of emptiness. It's clear that Heizer's concern is for the things our bodies experiment with nature directly: The emptiness of work is challenging the gigantic scale of the natural world. The visitor can walk in this statue as if it were a building, so that a relation can be drawn between the statue and architecture:'' (Kastner 1998:54)

North , East , South , West (1967), Nine Nevada Depression (1968), Adjacent Against , Upon (1976) and 45' , 90'/ Geometric Extraction (1984) can be counted among his other masterpieces.


Art was tried to be taken out of galleries in the beginnings of 1960s and 1970s by Heizer and his friends. And Land art turned out to be a movement that resulted from those attempts. Besides Heizer; Robert Smithson, Robert Morris, Joseph Beuys, Dennis Openheim were among the pioneers.

Even though there are works of land art in museums and exhibition centers, the works that really improved this art were carried out in open places in nature. This kind of art having been affected by the movement of the youth of the era, ecologic and feminist criticisms, and nourished by minimalism; can be regarded as the opposite cultural project.(Kastner,1998:3-8) On the other hand Heizer says that museums and collections are full to the brim and the outdoor places are waiting for them. Abandoning the galleries shows an anti-authoritarian tendancy, meaning a shift from tradition and refusal of the dominant modernist ideology. Besides this, most of those artists, with the support of some bosses, did works which were exhibited by galleries and museums. Also as some works need a really big budget, they made sponsorship compulsory. This condition puts out a really contradictory situation with the doctrine of land art .

In land art works, which are like statues in terms of its being constructed with three dimensions and sometimes in terms of its being dependant on performance; having the quality of being temporary; rocks, stones, sand, tree branches, sticks and soil were used. Such works were generally carried in open areas and were left there so that they were subject to the devastating effects of conditions of nature.

Works that are done by Heizer and the others reflect the opposition against the art politics of 60s and 70s, the new eco-spirit and more important than all against the conception that regards art objects as a commercial property. The following can be counted among these works: Robert Smithson, Spril Jetty (''Spiral Jetty'', Big Salt Lake, America,1970), Walter De Maria, The Ligtning Field (''The Lightning Field'', New Mexico, America,1977), Michael Heizer, Nine Nevada Depression (''Nine Nevada Depression'', Nevada Desert, America, 1969-1970), Richard Long, A line in Himalayas (''A line in Himalayas'', Himalaya, 1975), Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oks (''7000 Oks'', Germany, 1982) and Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Umbrellas (''The Umbrellas'', Japan, 1984-91).

There are different approaches and practices in land art , also named as environmental art, standing out. In some works, which are gigantic in size, in order to create a statue pattern, natural materials like stones, rocks and soil were used; the open area, itself, was changed and interfered in. However, in some projects, unnatural materials like asphalt, gum resin and Cadillack, produced materials, buildings or machines and technologies were used. But some artists, who oppose the bigness and monumentalness of the works mostly produced in America, produced works which are concentrated in his own body as a person directly in relation with nature. Some works which were included in a wide range, ranging from statues to the performance as a kind of practical research, tried to show that the relations with the natural environment not only depended on perception and pleasure but also exploitation, extravagance and damage. And taking nature and open areas into consideration as a physical element, some artists as a conclusion, used them as a metaphor or a sign.


In this sense Heizer's Complex City takes place in the approach in the second group. According to Lucas, those artists, ''are intersecting the environment and human activities by using unnatural, human made materials; and those works have been growing up in order to suit the big scale of the environment. Those artists highligted activities with violating/damaging qualities, interrogated the question ''What is nature?''. And paradoxically, they got into the interrogation of terrestrial exploitation being executed on behalf of becoming industrialized and urban development.

Like Heizer's most other works, Complex City is a work questioning and arguing about the concept of statue. For his own work the artist says that: ''it turned out to be interesting, trying to create a statue attempting to arouse the feeling that makes you feel that you are in atmosphere full of awe. It's said that small scaled works make this come true but my experience is quite different from them. Big statues, measured in terms of architecture, create both the object and the atmosphere. A mental state in fear mixed with respect equals to a religious experience, as for me when people get into the feeling of submission, some things exceed the limit. Big statues produced by most artists in the 60s and 70s, remind us the eras in which people took on the job of establishing society's important and extraordinarily big art objects.'' (Brown,1984:33)

On the other hand Complex City , though it's not a land art work directly dependant on performance, its being carried out for 32 years has turned it into a performance in fact. As problems just like the ecological concerns, pollution, criticims of modernist selecting art, which started in the years in which the building of it had started, are still alive from that time on. In this respect Complex City can be regarded as a referance to the continuation of those problems, as an opposition that goes hand in hand with them and as an unrelenting criticism. Complex City is not a work that is accustomed to, with regard to both its dimensions and the material which was used and the place on which it was built. More important than that it cannot be put into a museum easily, cannot be brought and sold that is cannot be treated as if it were a material thing.

Heizer is living in a caravan on an animal farm including dogs, cats, horses and oxen as well as scrapers, freight lorries, tractors, trailors, fertilizing machines; and at the same time carrying on the building of this statue city with the financial support of an art institution called Dia&Lannan



Michael Heizer, in an interview with Julia Brown, in Brown, ed., Michael Heizer: Sculpture in Reverse (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984), p. 33.

Land and environmental art, edited by Jeffrey Kastner ; survey by Brian Wallis, London : Phaidon Press, 1998.

Michael Govan, “Michael Heizer”: http://www.diacenter.org/exhibs_b/heizer/essay.html

Michael Kimmelman, “Michael Heizer: A Sculptor's Colossus of the Desert”, The New York Times, 12 Aralık 1999.

Ali Pekşen aapeksen@gmail.com